So Natalie, Henry and I went to the Wellcome Trust in Euston on Wednesday to eat insects! As well as wanting to try out a new gastronomic experience, we were all curious to find out more about the potential food crisis and how insects could be the solution. The night was part of a partnership between Pestival and Wellcome, part of ‘Who’s the pest?’ series. Pestival is a cultural organisation investigating our relationship with insects and the natural world.
To kick off the night we had insect representative, TED speaker and winner of the Dutch equivalent of the Nobel Prize Marcel Dicke, who wants to change the way Westerners perceive insects as food. Entomophagy is common in many other countries throughout the world and it could be the answer to the food crisis we may meet due to a rising population and the inefficiency of farmed animals to convert meat for food. Watch his TED talk here for more info on why we should eat insects!
The dish tasting was supported by the world-famous Nordic Food Lab with Head of Culinary Research and Development Ben Reade and Director Michael Bom Frøst going through each dish with us, their ideas behind them and our relationship with insects as food.
We were shown how the table cloths could turn us into insects…I got impatient after a while as there aren’t any arm holes!
Our menu arrived in all its natural beauty. Just like if you had put a dead chicken or cow on the table. I think I’d be put off eating it!
Anty-Gin and Tonic
To warm up our taste buds and gently ease us into the insect tasting experience, we started off with a glass of wood ant (Formica rufa) gin infused with cones, roots and seeds with carmine and tonic made by The Cambridge Distillery.
Based on the sticks that chimps use to fish termites out of tree trunks, they made liquorice root sticks with seeds, fruits, herbs and more importantly ants (Formica rufa and Lasius fuliginosus) I don’t like liquorice so I didn’t really enjoy them…ate them anyway as I was very hungry! They look pretty though don’t they? Henry got an electric shock down his arm while he was eating them (not sure if it was connected)! But if you have any allergies to shell fish, dust mites or react very badly to insect bites then you shouldn’t eat insects unfortunately…
Next up we had wax moth larvae mousseline (Galleria mellonella) and morels (type of mushroom). The taste of the actual mousse wasn’t that strong but we got a lot of the mushroom flavours coming from the morels and the broth. Natalie isn’t a mushroom fan so she had more of a problem with that than the actual moth larvae mousse itself.
Cricket Broth and Roasted Locust
In the mug you can see a broth which was made out of house cricket (Acheta domestica) with two grasshopper garums floating in it. It made me think of the times I’ve seen dead insects in my drink and thought errrr not drinking that. And here I was just casually drinking whole grasshoppers out of cricket broth. Nice. On the right are the butter-roasted desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) with a wild garlic and ant emulsion (Formica rufa) for dipping in. When eating the locusts I just imagined them as being like whitebait (little deep fried fish), but they didn’t taste anywhere near as nice! They had a bitterish taste and the emulsion wasn’t that nice either – I like garlic but didn’t have any flavours coming through. It just left a bad taste in my mouth! I enjoyed the broth though and without it, the locusts would have been a struggle to eat due to taste rather than fear factor.
To wash it down we were given some oatmealworm stout (Tenebrio molitor) thanks to the Siren Craft Brewery. I just tried a bit out of Nat’s glass as I am only a lover of fruit beer and I can’t handle any other kind especially stout. I can’t handle bitter tastes but it wasn’t too bad, it tasted like coffee. Henry was loving it! There’s a stout he likes called Old Engine Oil and he said it tasted very similar.
The Whole Hive
For dessert what better insect to base it on than the bee! We had beeswax ice cream, honey kombucha sauce, ‘bee bread’, propolis tincture, crisp honey with a delicious crunchy honeybee drone comb (Apis mellifera) stuck in the ice cream. The ice cream itself was a weird bland sort of taste. I thought it probably tastes like eating a candle! But the honeycomb and propolis added that much needed honey flavour.
We were given some Lindisfarne Mead from St Aidan’s Winery to drink alongside the ice cream, it was like a sweet nectar from the Gods!
My favourite was the dessert and mead but then again I do have a sweet tooth! It was a really cool experience and amazing to be led by research leaders in the field of gastronomy and entomology. It’s brought the issues of the food crisis closer to home and I’ve definitely warmed to the idea of eating insects. I think the point of the night was to not take away too much of the essence of the insects themselves as I’m sure you could mask the taste quite easily. There’s still so much we don’t know about them and their gastronomic properties – their taste can depend on lots of things such as what you feed them or their maturity. I’m sure over the years we will see a lot more insects coming into the Western world as food.